Our culture has been swimming in diet culture and body size shaming for quite a while now. However, recently, refreshing new voices and views have entered the scene. We have been hearing more about why diets don’t work, Health at Every Size (HAES), body acceptance, and more.
Even so, these movements have also stirred up a lot of fears. We have witnessed many opposing voices ring out with charged intensity: What about the obesity crisis? What about health? You just need to eat less and exercise more!
With plenty of research supporting the benefits of a no-diet approach, embracing Health at Every Size, and body acceptance, we are thankfully inching very slowly towards more people finding their own path to feel their best, get off the diet roller coaster, and bust out of the shame.
I’ve seen many of my clients find more peace around food and their bodies, and reach that point when they are truly living in the freedom that comes with that.
You may be on that journey towards food and body image peace yourself.
But, sometimes along the way some doubts and fears can creep in for you. Whether it be the voices of diet culture feeling a lot more vicious and louder to you, or your own inner vicious and critical voices swirling around, or your family giving you caring concern about your “health,” or feeling fed up, scared, and uncomfortable in your body.
These doubts and fears can be normal stumbling blocks along the way. But they are so painful and can keep you stuck or reaching for another restrictive diet.
I decided to compile a blend of the most common themes my clients have struggled with when they’re on their eating recovery journey and present them to a dietitian.
While I do work with disordered eating in my practice (helping people navigate the emotional, relational and personal experience of healing from food and body image issues), I often team up with a dietitian to fully help my clients recover. There are aspects of healing the food issues that fall under the expertise of an eating disorder dietitian.
In this blog post I have asked for expert answers to some of the most common questions I see in my practice.
Our expert today is Nicole Cruz, Registered Dietitian and Eating Disorder Specialist. She practices in Agoura Hills, CA and you can learn more about her at www.nicolecruzrd.com
So, let’s jump in and learn Nicole’s expert answers now.
Doubts, fears, and stumbling blocks when on your eating recovery journey — A dietitian answers:
1) I know I’m supposed to accept my body size, but I’m just so tempted to do a diet. I’m frustrated with being heavy and not having the quality of life because of it (tired of being in pain, can’t easily tie my shoes, get out of breath, can’t keep up with activities, etc.)
I know it can be hard to accept your body size as it is today. We live in a world that is constantly telling us our bodies are wrong and we can fix them. It’s hard to not listen to that message when it’s inundating us.
First, I want to speak to the piece where you say, “supposed to”. I’m guessing you’ve had practitioners say this to you, or you’re seeing the body positive movement on social media and feeling like that’s what you should be doing too.
But there is no “supposed to” for anyone. It’s about what is right for you. You can choose to not accept your body as it is now, but what will that be like? Some common things I hear are: going on and off diets, feeling restricted with food, forcing oneself to do boring workouts, being hyper-focused on food and body, living with constant shame and self-deprecating thoughts, never feeling good enough, and constantly searching for the next diet or weight loss tool. You do not have to accept your body size as it is, but if you choose not to, what will your life consist of? Choosing to accept it or not is a choice only you can make.
Diets don’t work
Second, being tempted to go on a diet makes perfect sense! We are conditioned to believe we can go on a diet and magically change our body size. We are sold the idea that losing weight is easy if we find the right combination of foods, eat the perfect number of calories, or take the proper supplements. Diets are glorified. “Do this simple thing and you will look like a model and live your best life,” we are told.
However, the truth is, diets don’t work. Most people who lose weight by focusing on weight loss as a goal, regain the weight they lost and the majority gain back even more. Diets are not easy. Our bodies are not meant to feel deprived and restricted. They eventually start to fight back as they fear famine. This is true for physical and emotional deprivation.
At first it might seem empowering to say no to the cookie, cake, pasta, or whatever said food, but over time that starts to wane. It’s hard to not be a part of social events involving foods you desire or to not partake when you’re having a stressful day. Once the excitement of the diet wears off the high of saying no diminishes.
You might be saying, but I’m still tired of living like this. If dieting doesn’t work, what should I do? When it comes to daily activities, we can still focus on improving quality of life without focusing on weight loss.
Finding your best route
Many people go through a cascade of thoughts such as, “It’s hard to walk up the hill. It’s because I’m fat. If I lose weight it will be easier. Once I lose weight I will start walking.” However, regardless of your weight, you can still build stamina and walk up a hill now.
What if you started treating your body with kindness and providing self-care right now, regardless of its size? Can you go for 10-minute walks on flat ground 3 days a week, building up to longer walks, and eventually hills? If you can’t tie your shoes, can you work on stretching and increasing flexibility? What are the things you do have the power to change?
We act as though we can change our body size, but most of the time we can’t. There are some things that will be harder to do in a larger body, and you will likely need to work with a skilled therapist to grieve the idea of changing your body size. But there are other things you can start working on now, regardless of your weight, to improve your quality of life.
2) I have a medical condition (diabetes, cholesterol, etc) and my doctor has told me I need to adjust my diet and/or lose weight to improve these conditions. I don’t want to restrict or be on a weight loss diet because I’m just finding my own freedom with my eating and food choices. What should I do?
First, I highly recommend working with Health at Every Size practitioners whenever possible, specifically a physician and dietitian in this case. The answer to this question is going to be different for every person and every condition, and so working with someone who can help you navigate the nuances will be extremely helpful. To address the question regarding weight loss, remember, the majority of people cannot lose weight and keep it off long term.
Opening up your thinking about health
Further, there are multiple factors that contribute to one’s health status, and there are many things you can do to influence your health that do not involve focusing on weight loss. Increasing daily movement, taking medication, getting more sleep, and decreasing stress can all improve health outcomes.
You may have a physical health condition, but disordered eating is also a factor in your mental well-being. Just as you need to care for your physical health, you need to care for your mental health to the same degree. If cutting out a certain food might be better for you physically, how does it affect you mentally? Do you feel stressed about it? Do you end up bingeing on it or other food? Do you start becoming more restrictive with your intake or anxious about eating different foods? If so, this might not be the right course for you.
Finding the middle ground
There is likely a way to find a middle ground. Can you reduce a certain food or drink but still have it sometimes? Is there a substitute food that might work for you? This is a process to go through while assessing the mental and physical effects with support. The best thing you can do is experiment with curiosity and not judgment.
Depending on the condition, there may be times when a certain food does have to be eliminated, such as a medically tested allergy. In this instance, avoiding the food is part of self-care.
It’s important to shift the perspective from restriction and weight loss to self-care and being attentive to what your body needs.
Regardless of whether you need to eliminate a food or are trying to improve a medical condition, the focus can be on including foods as opposed to excluding foods. For many conditions, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial. Without thinking about removing foods, simply focus on incorporating more of these foods and making them more accessible.
3a) If I truly accept the HAES approach, I’m really scared I will become and stay obese and bring on more health problems.
I know it’s scary to let go of control and trust the process without knowing the outcome, and unfortunately, we don’t know the outcome. If you let go of trying to control your weight, your weight may go up, down, or stay the same. It depends on multiple factors including, but not limited to, genetic predisposition, age, lifestyle, and history of dieting.
However, your weight does not determine your health. People in all body sizes experience injury, ailments, and disease, and being in a lower-weight body does not guarantee you escape these things. Further, research shows people can improve their health status by changing their behaviors, even when they remain at the same weight. These behaviors include adding physical activity, increasing fruits and vegetables, and meditating.
When you truly adopt the HAES philosophy, you are inherently focusing on better health.
3b) My family and loved ones are really scared about me accepting the HAES approach. They say they just want me to be “healthy.” I do too.
We often use the term “healthy”, but we don’t always have a clear definition in mind. I would first try to get clear on what you mean by “healthy”. Some things to consider are physical and mental states of health, freedom from injury or illness, and stress levels.
Weight is not a determinant of health, so let’s be sure to leave that out! You can pursue health without pursuing weight loss. In fact, you can better pursue health when you are not distracted by weight loss. The pursuit of weight loss itself may contribute to poor health by depriving the body of vital nutrients, taking harmful substances, or by contributing to binge eating from deprivation.
If your family wants you to be healthy, the best thing they can do is support you as you stop the pursuit of weight loss and adopt the HAES approach. After all, social support and relationships are key contributors to better health as well.
Thank you so much to Nicole Cruz for sharing her expertise and wisdom around these common doubts, fears and stumbling blocks.
So, now what to do with it?
How to use this advice when you feel doubts and fears during your own eating recovery
It can be a challenge and a relief to be working towards real food and body image peace. Healing eating issues, healing your body, and healing your mind around life-long judgements can be a bumpy road.
But recovery is possible and today you are tackling one important step in supporting your journey:
arming yourself with accurate information
Make sure you also add in
motivating inspiration (books, people, videos, quotes, etc)
deep connection and support (your network of friends and family, groups, therapists, dietitians, etc)
These steps will give you the help you need to walk the path and find your own freedom from the diet culture trap.
Today you are armed with awesome expert advice. Take it with you and use it when you are running into doubts, fears and stumbling blocks. Teach this to your support people too so that when you reach out to them, they can connect with you around this information and advice.
Sometimes professional help can really facilitate your process of creating your unique path and help heal the issues along the way. If you need guidance and support along the way, feel free to contact me so we can discuss how psychotherapy with a therapist and/or nutrition therapy with a dietitian can help you transform your relationship with food and your body.
Ready to settle your embattled relationship with Food & your Body? Grab your FREE Worksheet here to begin your healing journey towards real freedom from that deeply-rooted and exhausting struggle. Recovery IS possible!